Sep
22
2020
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Microsoft Teams gets breakout rooms, custom layouts and virtual commutes

Unsurprisingly, Teams has become a major focus for Microsoft during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s no surprise that the company is using its annual Ignite IT conference to announce a number of new features for the service.

Today’s announcements follow the launch of features like Together Mode and dynamic view earlier this summer.

Together Mode, which puts cutouts of meeting participants in different settings, is getting a bit of an update today with the launch of new scenes: auditoriums, coffee shops and conference rooms. Like before, the presenter chooses the scene, but what’s new now is that Microsoft is also using machine learning to ensure that participants are automatically centered in their virtual chairs, making the whole scene look just a little bit more natural (and despite what Microsoft’s research shows, I can never help but think that this all looks a bit goofy, maybe because it reminds me of the opening credits of The Muppet Show).

Image Credits: Microsoft

Also new in Teams is custom layouts, which allow presenters to customize how their presentations — and their own video feeds — appear. With this, a presenter can superimpose her own video image over the presentation, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Breakout rooms, a feature that is getting a lot of use in Zoom these days, is now also coming to Teams. Microsoft calls it the most requested feature in Teams and, like in similar products, it allows meeting organizers to split participants into smaller groups — and the meeting organizer can then go from room to room. Unsurprisingly, this feature is especially popular with teachers, though companies, too, often use it to facilitate brainstorming sessions, for example.

Image Credits: Microsoft

After exhausting all your brainstorming power in those breakout rooms and finishing up your meeting, Teams can now also send you an automatic recap of a meeting that includes a recording, transcript, shared files and more. These recaps will automatically appear on your Outlook calendar. In the future, Microsoft will also enable the ability to automatically store these recordings on SharePoint.

For companies that regularly host large meetings, Microsoft will launch support for up to 1,000 participants in the near future. Attendees in these meetings will get the full Teams experience, Microsoft promises. Later, Microsoft will also enable view-only meetings for up to 20,000 participants. Both of these features will become available as part of a new “Advanced Communications” plan, which is probably no surprise, given how much bandwidth and compute power it will likely take to manage a 1,000-person meeting.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Microsoft also made two hardware announcements related to Teams today. The first is the launch of what it calls “Microsoft Teams panels,” which are essentially small tablets that businesses can put outside of their meeting rooms for wayfinding. One cool feature here — especially as businesses start planning their post-pandemic office strategy — is that these devices will be able to use information from the cameras in the room to count how many people are attending a meeting in person and then show remaining room capacity, for example.

The company also today announced that the giant Surface Hub 2S 85-inch model will be available in January 2021.

And there is more. Microsoft is also launching new Teams features for front-line workers to help schedule shifts, alert workers when they are using Teams off-shift and praise badges that enable organizations to recognize workers (though those workers would probably prefer hard cash over a digital badge).

Also new is an integration between Teams and RealWear head-mounted devices for remote collaboration and a new Walkie Talkie app for Android.

And since digital badges aren’t usually enough to improve employee well-being, Microsoft is also adding a new set of well-being features to Teams. These provide users with personalized recommendations to help change habits and improve well-being and productivity.

Image Credits: Microsoft

That includes a new “virtual commute” feature that includes an integration with Headspace and an emotional check-in experience.

I’ve always been a fan of short and manageable commutes for getting some distance between work and home, but that’s not exactly a thing right now. Maybe Headspace works as an example, but there’s only so much Andy Puddicombe I can take. Still, I think I’ll keep my emotional check-ins to myself, though Microsoft obviously notes that it will keep all of that information private.

And while businesses now care about your emotional well-being (because it’s closely related to your productivity), managers mostly care about the work you get done. For them, Workplace Analytics is coming to Teams, giving “managers line of sight into teamwork norms like after-hours collaboration, focus time, meeting effectiveness, and cross-company connections. These will then be compared to averages among similar teams to provide managers with actionable insights.”

If that doesn’t make your manager happy, what will? Maybe a digital praise badge?

Aug
24
2020
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Meet the anti-antitrust startup club

When Congress called in tech CEOs to testify a few weeks ago, it felt like a defining moment. Hundreds of startups have become unicorns, with the largest worth more than $1 trillion (or perhaps $2 trillion). Indeed, modern tech companies have become so entrenched, Facebook is the only one of the Big Five American tech shops worth less than 13 figures.

The titanic valuations of many companies are predicated on current performance, cash on hand and lofty expectations for future growth. The pandemic has done little to stem Big Tech’s forward march and many startups have seen growth rates accelerate as other sectors rushed to support a suddenly remote workforce.

But inside tech’s current moment in the sun is a concern that Congress worked to highlight: Are these firms behaving anti-competitively?

By now you’ve heard the arguments concerning why Big Tech may be too big, but there’s a neat second story that we, the Equity crew, have been chatting about: Some startups are racing into the big kill zone.

They have to be a bit foolhardy to take on Google Gmail and Search, Amazon’s e-commerce platform or Apple’s App Store. Yet, there are startups targeting all of these categories and more, some flush with VC funding from investors who are eager to take a swing at tech’s biggest players

If the little companies manage to carve material market share for themselves, arguments that Big Tech was just too big to kill — let alone fail — will dissolve. But today, their incumbency is a reality and these startups are merely bold.

Still, when we look at the work being done, there are enough companies staring down the most valuable companies in American history (on an unadjusted basis) that we had to shout them out. Say hello to the “anti-antitrust club.”

Hey and Superhuman are coming after Gmail

Gmail has been the undisputed leader in consumer email for years (if not enterprise email, where Microsoft has massive inroads due to Exchange and Outlook). Startups have contested that market, including Mailbox, which sold to Dropbox for about $100 million back in 2013, but whenever a new feature came along that might entice users, Gmail managed to suck it up into its app.

Aug
20
2020
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Zoom UX teardown: 5 fails and how to fix them

Valued at over $60 billion and used by millions each day for work and staying in touch with friends and family, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped make Zoom one of the most popular and relevant enterprise applications.

On one level, its surge to the top can be summed up in three words: “It just works.” However, that doesn’t mean Zoom’s user experience is perfect — in fact, far from it.

With the help of Built for Mars founder and UX expert Peter Ramsey, we dive deeper into the user experience of Zoom on Mac, highlighting five UX fails and how to fix them. More broadly, we discuss how to design for “empty states,” why asking “copy to clipboard” requests are problematic and other issues.

Always point to the next action

This is an incredibly simple rule, yet you’d be surprised how often software and websites leave users scratching their heads trying to figure what they’re expected to do next. Clear signposting and contextual user prompts are key.

The fail: In Zoom, as soon as you create a meeting, you’re sat in an empty meeting room on your own. This sucks, because obviously you want to invite people in. Otherwise, why are you using Zoom? Another problem here is that the next action is hidden in a busy menu with other actions you probably never or rarely use.

The fix: Once you’ve created a meeting (not joined, but created), Zoom should prompt and signpost you how to add people. Sure, have a skip option. But it needs some way of saying “Okay, do this next.”

Steve O’Hear: Not pointing to the next action seems to be quite a common fail, why do you think this is? If I had to guess, product developers become too close to a product and develop a mindset that assumes too much prior knowledge and where the obvious blurs with the nonobvious?

Jul
15
2020
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Emergence’s Jason Green thinks some of the tech backlash is justified, but the B2B opportunities still outweigh the challenges

Jason Green, co-founder and partner at Emergence, is one of the leading VCs investing in enterprise startups at the moment. But even with the focus on B2B, many of their companies have become household names — Zoom, Yammer, Box and Salesforce among them.

Now, we’re all living in a climate where everything has been turned upside down. Meetings are virtual, the future economy and collective health of the world are unknowns, and being an investor — or a founder — comes with completely new parameters and rules of engagement.

We sat down with Green for an enlightening hour to talk about the challenges of all that, plus making deals, running a business, and suddenly finding your quiet, B2B name being turned into a verb. It was an interesting conversation, worth a read for enterprise startups and investors, but — similar to how B2B can spill into consumer — equally insightful for many more.

Extra Crunch Live is our new virtual speaker series for Extra Crunch members. Folks can ask their own questions live during the chat, with guests that include Aileen Lee, Kirsten Green, Mark Cuban and many, many more. You can check out the schedule here.

Below, you’ll find a lightly edited transcript of our recent chat with Green.

How is sourcing impacted in the current climate?

Sourcing is not much different. We follow the same due diligence process, so when we make an investment, the whole team basically dives in and does due diligence. So we make manager references and customer calls and spend time with each of the management team having one-on-ones. In some ways, it was better. First of all, we could very easily do breakout rooms with each of the individual management team members and then come back. So there was this dynamism to the meeting that we hadn’t had before. We were able to basically record it and share it with folks that couldn’t participate. So all of us had all the information when we were making the decision together. That was pretty special, actually. So it took a little bit longer, it probably took about 50% longer than we would have done otherwise. But I think actually, now knowing what we’ve done, we could probably compress it back to our normal timeframe. So I think in a lot of ways, we’ve learned like a lot of folks that we can do things remotely that we probably didn’t think were possible before. Hopefully, we’ll see how the investment turns out, but we’re super excited about it.

Are you considering more startups outside the Valley, and how are they viewing their own place outside the Valley?

Jul
15
2020
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Zoom introduces all-in-one home communications appliance for $599

Zoom has become the de facto standard for online communications during the pandemic, but the company has found that it’s still a struggle for many employees to set up the equipment and the software to run a meeting effectively. The company’s answer is an all-in-one communications appliance with Zoom software ready to roll in a simple touch interface.

The device, dubbed the Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, is being produced by partner DTEN. It consists of a standalone 27-inch screen, essentially a large tablet equipped with three wide-angle cameras designed for high-resolution video and 8 microphones. Zoom software is pre-loaded on the device and the interface is designed to provide easy access to popular Zoom features.

Zoom for Home – DTEN ME with screen sharing on. Image Credits: Zoom

Jeff Smith, head of Zoom Rooms, says that the idea is to offer an appliance that you can pull out of the box and it’s ready to use with minimal fuss. “Zoom for Home is an initiative from Zoom that allows any Zoom user to deploy a personal collaboration device for their video meetings, phone calls, interactive whiteboard annotation — all the good stuff that you want to do on Zoom, you can do with a dedicated purpose-built device,” Smith told TechCrunch.

He says this is designed with simplicity in mind, so that you pull it out of the box and launch the interface by entering a pairing code on a website on your laptop or mobile phone. Once the interface appears, you simply touch the function you want, such as making a phone call or starting a meeting, and it connects automatically.

Image Credits: Zoom

You can link it to your calendar so that all your meetings appear in a sidebar, and you just touch the next meeting to connect. If you need to share your screen it includes ultrasonic pairing between the appliance and your laptop or mobile phone. This works like Bluetooth, but instead of sending out a radio signal, it sends out a sound between 18 and 22 kHz, which most people can’t hear, to connect the two devices, Smith said.

Smith says Zoom will launch with two additional partners, including the Neat Bar and the Poly Studio X Series, and could add other partners in the future.

The DTEN appliance will cost $599 and works with an existing Zoom license. The company is taking pre-orders and the devices are expected to ship next month.

Jul
07
2020
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Zoom announces new Hardware as a Service offering to run on ServiceNow

Zoom announced a new Hardware as a Service offering today that will run on the ServiceNow platform. At the same time, the company announced a deal with ServiceNow to standardize on Zoom and Zoom Phone for its 11,000 employees in another case of SaaS cooperation.

For starters, the new Hardware as a Service offering allows customers, who use the Zoom Phone and Zoom Rooms software, to acquire related hardware from the company for a fixed monthly cost. The company announced that initial solutions providers will include DTEN, Neat, Poly and Yealink.

The new service allows companies to access low-cost hardware and pay for the software and hardware on a single invoice. This could result in lower up-front costs, while simplifying the bookkeeping associated with a customer’s online communications options.

Companies can start small if they wish, then add additional hardware over time as needs change, and they can also opt for a fully managed service, where a third party can deal with installation and management of the hardware if that’s what a customer requires.

Zoom will run the new service on ServiceNow’s Now platform, which provides a way to manage the service requests as they come in. And in a case of one SaaS hand washing the other, ServiceNow has standardized on the Zoom platform for its internal communications tool, which has become increasingly important as the pandemic has moved employees to work from home. The company also plans to replace its current phone system with Zoom Phones.

One of the defining characteristics of SaaS companies, and a major difference from previous generations of tech companies, has been the willingness of these organizations to work together to string together sets of services when it makes sense. These kinds of partnerships not only benefit the companies involved, they tend to be a win for customers too.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, sees this as a deal between two rising SaaS stars, and one that benefits both companies. “Everyone and their mother is announcing partnerships with Zoom, focusing on integrating video communications into core focus areas. But this partnership looks to be much more substantial than most, with ServiceNow not only partnering with Zoom for tighter video communication capabilities, but also displacing its current phone system with Zoom Phone,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Jun
25
2020
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Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan will speak at Disrupt 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has bruised and battered many technology startups, but it has also boosted a small few. One such company is Zoom, which has shouldered the task of keeping us connected to one another in the midst of remote work and social distancing.

So, of course, we’re absolutely thrilled to have the chance to chat with Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan at Disrupt 2020 online.

Yuan moved to Silicon Valley in 1997 after being rejected for a work visa nine times. He got a job at WebEx and, upon the company’s acquisition by Cisco, became VP of Engineering at the company. He pitched an idea for a mobile-friendly video conferencing system that was rejected by his higher-ups.

And thus, Zoom was born.

Zoom launched in 2011 and quickly became one of the biggest teleconferencing platforms in the world, competing with the likes of Google and Cisco. The company has investors like Emergence, Horizon Ventures and Sequoia, and ultimately filed to go public in 2019.

With some of the most reliable video conferencing software on the market, a tiered pricing structure that’s friendly to average users and massive enterprises alike, and a lively ecosystem of apps and bots on the Zoom App Marketplace, Zoom was well poised to be a public company. In fact, Zoom popped 81% in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq, garnering a valuation of $16 billion at the time.

But few could have prepared the company for the explosive growth it would see in 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic necessitated access to reliable and user-friendly video conferencing software for everyone, not just companies moving to remote work. People used Zoom for family dinners, cocktail hours with friends, first dates and religious gatherings.

In fact, Zoom reported 300 million daily active participants in April.

But that growth led to increased scrutiny of the business and the product. The company was beset by security issues and had to pause product innovation to focus its energy on resolving those issues.

We’ll talk to Yuan about the growing pains the company went through, his plans for Zoom’s future, the acceleration in changing user behavior and more.

It’ll be a conversation you won’t want to miss.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 to September 18, and the show will be completely virtual. That means it’s easier than ever to attend and engage with the show. There are just a few Digital Pro Passes left at the $245 price — once they are gone, prices will increase. Discounts are available for current students and nonprofit/government employees. Or if you are a founder, you can exhibit at your virtual booth for $445 and be able to generate leads even before the event kicks off. Get your tickets today.


Jun
04
2020
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SaaS earnings rise as pandemic pushes companies more rapidly to the cloud

As the pandemic surged and companies moved from offices to working at home, they needed tools to ensure the continuity of their business operations. SaaS companies have always been focused on allowing work from anywhere there’s access to a computer and internet connection, and while the economy is reeling from COVID-19 fallout, modern software companies are thriving.

That’s because the pandemic has forced companies that might have been thinking about moving to the cloud to find tools what will get them there much faster. SaaS companies like Zoom, Box, Slack, Okta and Salesforce were there to help; cloud security companies like CrowdStrike also benefited.

While it’s too soon to say how the pandemic will affect work long term when it’s safe for all employees to return to the office, it seems that companies have learned that you can work from anywhere and still get work done, something that could change how we think about working in the future.

One thing is clear: SaaS companies that have reported recent earnings have done well, with Zoom being the most successful example. Revenue was up an eye-popping 169% year-over-year as the world shifted in a big way to online meetings, swelling its balance sheet.

There is a clear connection between the domestic economy’s rapid transition to the cloud and the earnings reports we are seeing — from infrastructure to software and services. The pandemic is forcing a big change to happen faster than we ever imagined.

Big numbers

Zoom and CrowdStrike are two companies expected to grow rapidly thanks to the recent acceleration of the digital transformation of work. Their earnings reports this week made those expectations concrete, with both firms beating expectations while posting impressive revenue growth and profitability results.

Jun
03
2020
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Daily Crunch: Zoom reports spectacular growth

Zoom’s latest earnings report was even better than expected, SoftBank announces a new fund to invest in founders of color and Google pulls a trending app that targets apps from China.

Here’s your Daily Crunch for June 3, 2020.

1. Remote work helps Zoom grow 169% in one year, posting $328.2M in Q1 revenue

Zoom’s customer numbers were similarly sharp, with the firm reporting that it had 265,400 customers with more than 10 seats (employees) at the end of the quarter, which was up 354% from the year-ago period.

Not all of the news coming out of its latest earnings report was positive, however. CEO Eric Yuan confirmed that a plan to implement end-to-end encryption does not in fact extend to non-paying users.

2. SoftBank launches $100M+ Opportunity Growth Fund to invest in founders of color

The Opportunity Growth Fund “will only invest in companies led by founders and entrepreneurs of color,” according to an internal memo from SoftBank’s COO Marcelo Claure, who said the fund will initially start with $100 million — meaning there is room for SoftBank or other limited partners to add more over time.

3. Google pulls ‘Remove China Apps’ from Play Store

The top trending app in India, which was downloaded more than 5 million times since late May and enabled users to detect and easily delete apps developed by Chinese firms, was pulled from Android’s marquee app store for violating Google Play Store’s Deceptive Behavior Policy.

4. Facebook and PayPal invest in Southeast Asian ride-hailing giant Gojek

Facebook and PayPal are joining Google and Tencent as high-profile tech firms that have backed the five-year-old Southeast Asian ride-hailing startup, which also offers food delivery and mobile payments.

5. The fundraising marketplace has stabilized. Or has it?

DocSend CEO Russ Heddleston said the last two weeks could be establishing a new normal for fundraising this year. Even though most VCs aren’t taking in-person meetings, they were more active in the past month than they were in May of both 2019 and 2018. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Venture firms rush to find ways to support Black founders and investors

Firms like Benchmark, Sequoia, Bessemer, Eniac Ventures, Work-Bench and SaaSTR Fund founder Jason Lemkin all tweeted in support of the cause and offered to take steps to improve the lack of representation in their industry. But some Black entrepreneurs and investors are questioning the firms’ motivations.

7. Lili raises $10M for its freelancer banking app

CEO Lilac Bar David suggested that no traditional banking solutions are really designed to solve the problems faced by freelancers — whether they’re designers, programmers, fitness instructors, chefs or beauty professionals. She described Lili as the first “all-in-one” solution, offering both a bank account and a broader suite of financial tracking tools.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Jun
02
2020
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Remote work helps Zoom grow 169% in one year, posting $328.2M in Q1 revenue

Today after the bell, video-chat service Zoom reported its Q1 earnings. The company disclosed that it generated $328.2 million in revenue, up 169% compared to the year-ago period. The company also reported $0.20 per-share in adjusted profit during the three-month period.

Analysts, as averaged by Yahoo Finance, expected Zoom to report $202.48 million in revenue, and a per-share profit of $0.09. After its earnings smash, shares of Zoom were up slightly Update: Zoom shares are now up 2.3% ahead of its earnings call; investors had priced in this outsized-performance, it seems.

Zoom grew 78% in its preceding quarter on an annualized basis. The company’s growth acceleration is notable.

Investors were expecting big gains. Before its earnings, shares in the popular business-to-business service were up by more than 3x during the year; Zoom has found itself in an updraft due in part to COVID-19 driving workers and others to stay home and work remotely. Zoom’s software has also seen large purchase amongst consumers hungry for a video chatting solution that was simple and that works.

If the company could sustain its valuation gains going into this earnings report was an open question that has now been answered.

Gains

Zoom’s growth in its Q1 fiscal 2021 generated some notable profit results for the firm. The firm’s net income, an unadjusted profit metric, rose from $0.2 million in the year-ago quarter to $27.0 million in its most recent three months.

And Zoom’s cash generation was astounding. Here’s how the company described its results:

Net cash provided by operating activities was $259.0 million for the quarter, compared to $22.2 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020. Free cash flow was $251.7 million, compared to $15.3 million in the first quarter of fiscal year 2020.

It’s difficult to recall another company that has managed such growth in cash generation in such a short period of time, driven mostly by operations and not other financial acts. Zoom’s customer numbers were similarly sharp, with the firm reporting that it had 265,400 customers with more than 10 seats (employees) at the end of the quarter, which was up 354% from the year-ago period.

Though not all news for Zoom was good. Indeed, the company’s gross margin fell sharply in the quarter, compared to its year-ago result. In is Q1 fiscal 2020, Zoom reported a gross margin of around 80%. In its most recent quarter that number slipped to around 68%. In short, the company managed to convert many free users to paying customers, but still had to carry the costs of free usage of its product, something that has exploded in recent months.

Looking ahead, Zoom expects the current quarter to be another blockbuster period. The company noted in its release that it expects “between $495.0 million and $500.0 million” in revenue for Q2 of its fiscal 2021 (the current period). Looking ahead for the full fiscal year, Zoom anticipates revenues “between $1.775 billion and $1.800 billion,” numbers that take into account “the demand for remote work solutions for businesses” and “increased churn in the second half of the fiscal year” when some customers might no longer need Zoom if they can return to their offices.

Its shares might have priced in these results, but the numbers themselves are simply massive. Just three months ago Zoom turned in revenues of just $188.3 million. That’s less than it generated in free cash flow during its next three months.

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